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Security

The Takeaway

Surgeon Tends to Wounded at the Boston Marathon

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Within 30 seconds of crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon yesterday, Dr. Chris Rupe, a surgeon from Salina, Kansas, witnessed the explosions in the street. He describes how, despite having just ran 26 miles, he rushed to help those injured.

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The Takeaway

What we can Learn From Israel

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich was the Israeli ambassador to the United States from 1993 to 1996. He talks about his experiences in a country rife with random acts of violence and what we can learn.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly on Responding to Terror

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Brian Lehrer Show has updates from Boston in the wake of the bombings at the marathon that left 3 dead and over 150 injured: how the investigation is going, how you can help, and implications for New York area security.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Airport Security Changes

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Harvey Molotch, professor of sociology and metropolitan studies at New York University and the author of Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger, discusses new changes in security at the airport.

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President Could, In Theory, Order Drone Strike Inside U.S., Holder Says

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

In a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the attorney general noted that such a situation could be imagined only in an "extraordinary circumstance" such as the attack on Pearl Harbor or on Sept. 11, 2001. The letter was in response to inquiries from Paul regarding the legality of military strikes within the country.

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On The Media

The New York Times Gets Hacked

Friday, February 01, 2013

As a technology reporter for The New York Times, Nicole Perlroth says it's hard to convince corporations to go on the record with the details of their cybersecurity breaches. But last October, when The Times learned that Chinese hackers had infiltrated its own computer systems, Nicole got a front-row seat to report on her own company's response to a targeted attack. Perlroth talks to Brooke about the inevitability of security breaches, and the measures that can be taken to minimize damage.

 

Andrew Pekler - Here Comes the Night

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The Takeaway

The Iranian Government's Army of Spies

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

According to a new report, Iran’s spy agency, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, is the most powerful and well-funded government agency in the country. Noah Shachtman, contributing editor for Wired Magazine and editor of its national security blog “Danger Room” explains how the MOIS became so powerful and what it uses its influence for.

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Transportation Nation

TSA to Commission Independent Study of X-Ray Body Scanners

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Transportation Security Administration will have the National Academy of Sciences study the health effects of X-ray body scanners used in airports. (David McNew/Getty Images)

(Michael Grabell ProPublica) Following months of congressional pressure, the Transportation Security Administration has agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the health effects of the agency's X-ray body scanners. But it is unclear if the academy will conduct its own tests of the scanners or merely review previous studies.

The machines, known as backscatters, were installed in airports nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009 to screen passengers for explosives and other nonmetallic weapons. But they have been criticized by some prominent scientists because they expose the public to a small amount of ionizing radiation, a form of energy that can cause cancer.

The scanners were the subject of a 2011 ProPublica series, which found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even low doses of radiation. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays.

The TSA maintains that the backscatters are safe and that they emit a low dose of X-rays equivalent to the radiation a passenger would receive in two minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, introduced a bill mandating such a test earlier this year.

"I am pleased that at long last the Transportation Security Administration has heeded my call to commission an independent examination into the possible health risks travelers and TSA employees may face during airport screenings," she said in a statement Monday night.

According to a brief contract notice posted on a government procurement website, the National Academy of Sciences will convene a committee to review previous studies to determine if the dose from the scanners complies with existing health and safety standards and to evaluate the TSA's methods for testing and maintaining the machines.

Collins' office said the language in the contract notice wasn't final and that the study would be consistent with the senator's calls for an independent investigation. TSA spokesman David Castelveter added, "Administrator [John] Pistole has made a commitment to conduct the study and TSA is following through on that commitment."

Still, it's unclear how much the study that the TSA is proposing will add to what's known about the machines, mainly because it's not known if the National Academy of Sciences will conduct new tests or confine itself to examining previous studies. In the past, TSA has contracted with the Food and Drug Administration, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Army Public Health Command to test the scanners. All three studies found the radiation was in line with a voluntary standard set by an industry panel that included FDA scientists.

A 2012 study by the Department of Homeland Security's independent watchdog supported the findings but based its report on previous tests performed by the TSA and the other groups.

This fall, the TSA began replacing the X-ray body scanners with millimeter-wave machines 2013 a technology radiation experts consider safer 2013 at most of its biggest airports. The TSA said the move was done to speed up lines and that the X-ray scanners would eventually be redeployed at smaller airports.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two types of scanners.

Europe has prohibited the X-ray scanners while Israel, which is influential in the security world, has recently begun testing them.

The TSA study will not address privacy, cultural or legal concerns that have been raised by the scans, the contract notice said.

 

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Context and a TV Show: Homeland

Friday, November 23, 2012

Every so often, we pick a popular movie, play, or TV show and talk about the real-life context. Today: Showtime's "Homeland."

Bob Baer, the Intelligence Columnist for TIME Magazine and 21-year veteran of the CIA, talks about what "Homeland" gets right and what it says about counter-terrorism. Then, June Thomas, a culture critic for Slate and host of the new Slate podcast The Afterword, discusses what the show says about the evolution of spy thrillers after 9/11.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists

Friday, November 23, 2012

Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg traces the history of the activists trying to free the world’s institutional secrets, from the cryptography revolution of the 1970s to Wikileaks’ founding hacker Julian Assange, Anonymous, and beyond. In This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Information, he explains how hackers access private files of government agencies and corporations, bringing on a new age of whistle blowing.

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Transportation Nation

TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners From Major Airports

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Transportation Security Administration volunteer demonstrates a full-body scanner at O'Hare International Airport on March 15, 2010 in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Michael Grabell, ProPublica) The Transportation Security Administration has been quietly removing its X-ray body scanners from major airports over the last few weeks and replacing them with machines that radiation experts believe are safer.

The TSA says it made the decision not because of safety concerns but to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. It means, though, that far fewer passengers will be exposed to radiation because the X-ray scanners are being moved to smaller airports.

The backscatters, as the X-ray scanners are known, were swapped out at Boston Logan International Airport in early October. Similar replacements have occurred at Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O'Hare, Orlando and John F. Kennedy in New York, the TSA confirmed Thursday.

The X-ray scanners have faced a barrage of criticism since the TSA began rolling them out nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009. One reason is that they emit a small dose of ionizing radiation, which at higher levels has been linked to cancer.

In addition, privacy advocates decried that the machines produce images, albeit heavily blurred, of passengers' naked bodies. Each image must be reviewed by a TSA officer, slowing security lines.

The replacement machines, known as millimeter-wave scanners, rely on low-energy radio waves similar to those used in cell phones. The machines detect potential threats automatically and quickly using a computer program. They display a generic cartoon image of a person's body, mitigating privacy concerns.

"They're not all being replaced," TSA spokesman David Castelveter said. "It's being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time."

He said the TSA decided to move the X-ray machines to less-busy airports after conducting an analysis of processing time and staffing requirements at the airports where the scanners are installed.

The radiation risk and privacy concerns had no bearing on the decision, Castelveter said.

Asked about the changes, John Terrill, a spokesman for Rapiscan 2014 which makes the X-ray scanners 2014 wrote in an email, "No comment on this."

The TSA is not phasing out X-ray body scanners altogether. The backscatter machines are still used for screening at a few of America's largest 25 airports, but the TSA has not confirmed which ones. Last week, Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz., installed two of the machines.

Moreover, in late September, the TSA awarded three companies potential contracts worth up to $245 million for the next generation of body scanners 2014 and one of the systems, made by American Science & Engineering, uses backscatter X-ray technology.

The United States remains one of the only countries in the world to X-ray passengers for airport screening. The European Union prohibited the backscatters last year "in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens' health and safety," according to a statement at the time. The last scanners were removed from Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom last month.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two types of body scanners the TSA uses.

The X-ray scanner looks like two blue refrigerator-sized boxes. Unseen to the passenger, a thin beam scans left and right and up and down. The rays reflect back to the scanner, creating an image of the passenger's body and any objects hidden under his or her clothes.

The millimeter-wave scanner looks like a round glass booth. Two rotating antennas circle the passenger, emitting radio frequency waves. Instead of creating a picture of the passenger's body, a computer algorithm looks for anomalies and depicts them as yellow boxes on a cartoon image of the body.

According to many studies, including a new one conducted by the European Union, the radiation dose from the X-ray scanner is extremely small. It has been repeatedly measured to be less than the dose received from cosmic radiation during two minutes of the airplane flight.

Using those measurements, radiation experts have studied the cancer risk, with estimates ranging from six to 100 additional cancer cases among the 100 million people who fly every year. Many scientists say that is trivial, considering that those same 100 million people would develop 40 million cancers over the course of their lifetimes. And others, including the researchers who did the EU study, have said that so much is unknown about low levels of radiation that such estimates shouldn't be made.

Still, the potential risks have led some prominent scientists to argue that the TSA is unnecessarily endangering the public because it has an alternative 2014 the millimeter-wave machine 2014 which it also deems highly effective at finding explosives.

"Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we're going to have some cancer cases?" David Brenner, director of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, told ProPublica last year. "It makes me think, really, why don't we use millimeter waves when we don't have so much uncertainty?"

Although there has been some doubt about the long-term safety of the type of radio frequency waves used in the millimeter-wave machines, scientists say that, in contrast to X-rays, such waves have no known mechanism to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The TSA has said that having both technologies encourages competition, leading to better detection capabilities at a lower cost.

But tests in Europe and Australia suggest the millimeter-wave machines have some drawbacks. They were found to have a high false-alarm rate, ranging from 23 percent to 54 percent when figures have been released. Even common things such as folds in clothing and sweat have triggered the alarm.

In contrast, Manchester Airport officials told ProPublica that the false-alarm rate for the backscatter was less than 5 percent.

No study comparing the two machines' effectiveness has been released. The TSA says its own results are classified.

Each week, the agency reports on various knives, powdered drugs and even an explosives detonator used for training that have been found by the body scanners.

But Department of Homeland Security investigators reported last year that they had "identified vulnerabilities" with both types of machines. And House transportation committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who has seen the results, has called the scanners "badly flawed."

 

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Transportation Nation

Report: After Breaches, Lax Security At Newark Airport

Friday, October 19, 2012

Plane at Newark Airport. (photo by Flickr / Stephen Rees)

(New York, NY - WNYC) - An analysis by the federal Department of Homeland Security shows that corrective action was taken for only 42% of the security breaches recorded at Newark Liberty International Airport between January 2010 and May 2011. That's the lowest grade of six major airports analyzed for the report, which blacked out the names of the other airports examined.

The breaches included a man gaining access to the "sterile," or most secure, area of a terminal, which shut down operations for six hours. In another incident, a dead dog was placed on a passenger plane without screening the cadaver for a bomb. Corrective actions after such incidents can include fines, reprimands, suspensions and firings of employees.

Newark Liberty International Airport is located 14 miles from Manhattan. About 33 million people traveled through it in 2010, making it one of the country’s busiest airports.

As with most U.S. airports, Newark's security screenings are conducted by staff with the  federal Transportation Safety Administration. The report says most of the security breaches in which corrective action was not taken occurred in 2010, but goes on to add that security has been more aggressive: "Since 2010, Newark has improved efforts to correct security breach vulnerabilities."

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who commissioned the report, concurred. "TSA has taken meaningful steps to improve performance," he said in a statement.

But the report goes on to slam the federal agency for its lack of coordination. "TSA does not have an effective mechanism in place to consolidate information about all security breaches and therefore cannot use information collected to monitor trends or make general improvements to security," say the report's authors. "It does not have a complete understanding of breaches occurring at the Nation’s airports and misses opportunities to strengthen aviation security.

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Transportation Nation

Some Air Travelers Are Actually Happy. Yes, You Read That Right

Thursday, September 27, 2012

“It's game-changing. Amazing. It's the best.”

In the 11 years since Al-Qaeda terrorists used passenger planes as weapons on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, air travelers have rarely used such words to describe the airport security experience. But that could be changing at airports across the country.

“It honestly has changed everything,” says Neal Lassila, a tech company executive, describing how easily he sails through security now thanks to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program.

Lassila was interviewed by Transportation Nation after taking all of 90 seconds to pass through a new screening checkpoint at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington that was built specifically for PreCheck “known travelers.”

“I travel quite a bit so getting in and out of security was a bit of a hassle,” the Los Angeles resident said.

Lassila didn’t have to take off his shoes or belt -- or even open his bag -- on the way through the checkpoint.  He had been pre-screened after successfully applying for the TSA program through his airline as a frequent flier.  His ‘known traveler’ number is now embedded in the bar code of his boarding pass.

TSA officials invited reporters to attend a news conference inside the Dulles main terminal on Tuesday to check out the new checkpoint and interview travelers who have been accepted into the PreCheck program, which marks a shift in the one-size-fits-all security template used on all travelers after 9/11.

“I had to give them my driver’s license, a working passport, and I had to show them my birth certificate to prove who I was and that the documents matched me,” said Rich Hubner, a Virginia resident who travels frequently for his environmental science career.

Hubner applied for the PreCheck expedited screening program through the government’s Global Entry system which requires a short, in-person interview with security personnel to verify his identity.  Becoming eligible for the program removed all the hassle of long lines at security checkpoints.

“Cooler minds have prevailed finally,” he said.

Dulles is the 26th airport where PreCheck is operating.  TSA hopes to expand the program to 35 airports by the end of the year.  Three million passengers have been screened through PreCheck to date, according to TSA administrator John Pistole.  But he said Dulles is a special case. “Dulles International is the first airport in the nation to build a new checkpoint that is dedicated only to TSA PreCheck operations,” he said at the news conference. “If we have determined that a passenger is eligible for expedited screening, that information will have been embedded on the bar code of your boarding pass.”

There are some caveats: only frequent fliers of certain airlines, like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways or Alaska Airlines are eligible right now.  And pre-screened passengers won't necessarily fly through security every time. The TSA website warns that the agency "will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening."

To see a list of airports that have PreCheck, go here.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Unsafe Security

Friday, September 21, 2012

Harvey Molotch, professor of sociology and metropolitan studies at New York University and the author of Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger, argues many of our post-9/11 security precautions make us less safe.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Activist Hackers

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg traces the history of the activists trying to free the world’s institutional secrets, from the cryptography revolution of the 1970s to Wikileaks’ founding hacker Julian Assange, Anonymous, and beyond. In This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Information, he explains how hackers access private files of government agencies and corporations, bringing on a new age of whistle blowing.

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The Takeaway

The Design, Diplomacy, and Safety of U.S. Embassies

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In the midst of the upheaval at American embassies and consulates, average citizens might ask: “Why is this happening?” or “How can we stop it?” But for architects like Andre Houston, the more pressing question is “Will the building withstand the worst?”

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WNYC News

Pentagon Sends Former Navy SEAL A Warning Over Bin Laden Raid Book

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Pentagon reminds Matt Bissonnette that he signed a non-disclosure agreement and it warns him that it is ready to take legal action against him.

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WNYC News

Former Navy SEAL's Account Of Bin Laden Raid Differs From Govt. Version

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bin Laden, the former SEAL writes in an upcoming book, was already shot by the time they got to his room. He was lying in a pool of blood, his body twitching.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Domain Awareness System

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fast Company reporter Neal Ungerleider talks about the new joint NYPD/Microsoft endeavor to monitor parts of Manhattan.

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Transportation Nation

Controversial Atlantic Avenue "Coffins" Now Being Removed in Brooklyn

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

(photo by Andrea Bernstein)

(UPDATED WITH MTA INFORMATION) The imposing concrete bollards surrounding Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal station are coming down.

The so-called "coffins" appeared without warning in 2010, when the new terminal was opened. "More Extreme Than NYPD Counterterror Guidelines" mocked a Streetsblog headline. Urban planners decried the bollards as pedestrian-unfriendly and a backwards model of city design.

The Long Island Rail Road and nine subway lines stop at the Atlantic Terminal station, which will serve the new Barclays Center arena when it opens in September.

New York's MTA cited unspecified security concerns in installing what the Brooklyn Paper called "sarcophagi."

Workers there say the bollards will be replaced with "something else."

A spokesman for the MTA said that "something else" is new, smaller bollards. The work is part of a $3.5 million security upgrade at the subway terminal.

Deconstruction: bollards being removed in downtown Brooklyn (photo by Andrea Bernstein)

 

(photo by Andrea Bernstein)

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